Thursday, March 16, 2023

Build a level playing field / Compassion is not zero-sum

Aimee Mann - How Am I Different

Ezra Klein has a recent podcast with Richard Reeves (a father to three sons) entitled The Men - and Boys - Are Not Alright. (Despite my criticisms below, the podcast is worth listening to.) 

To start with, they discuss the educational gap between boys and girls. On its face, this would seem to perhaps support people like Bryan Caplan's contention that society is biased toward girls. But upon being pressed by Ezra, Reeves admits that this education gap is mostly between children of color, especially Black boys and girls. 

So it isn't, as you'll see claimed by some conservatives and their incel followers, that "the bitches just hate men." Instead, it is actually an issue of poverty and the criminalization of Black boys and men

This, of course, leads to another area where Ezra pushed back. When Blacks are arrested at a higher rate, conservatives are quick to claim that this is because of something inherent in Black people (men and boys in particular). 

Similarly, for decades conservatives said that women just couldn't hack college, or athletics, or being a cop. (They still say this about computer science.) But now, when it seems as though some males are falling behind in some areas, conservatives are quick to blame "the system" as set up by "feminists." 

(Men aren't, of course, falling behind in terms of income. And here, conservatives also blame women - they aren't ambitious, they value family, they prefer lower-paying jobs.)

I would have liked Ezra to push back on the contention that boys' brains develop more slowly than girls'. I'm not saying this isn't true (I'm no blank-slater). But I don't know how we can know that for sure. 

As I've noted before, if you dress a baby in stereotypical boy or girl clothes, people treat that same baby differently. This differential treatment starts when still a baby! How can you tease out the nature signal from the nurture? 

If, in our sexist society, boys are raised to value physical activities (e.g., sports) while girls are raised to value intellectual activities (e.g., school), how can we say that boys do worse (on average) in school because of their brain development? 

What about the fact that boys and girls don't seem to differ in the same way on standardized test scores? In this case, conservatives are quick to claim SAT math scores "prove" that boys are inherently better at math.

So to be clear: According to conservatives, when boys do worse in school, it is the system's fault. When boys do better at math, it is because boys are inherently better.

I am not saying that the system is set up perfectly to allow boys to reach their full potential. For example: there are many fewer male teachers in public schools than several decades ago. This, along with the incredible incarceration and unemployment rates of young Black men, leaves boys - especially Black boys - with fewer role models for societal-approved success. However, the declining number of young men working with boys is because of systemic racism and the even lower value our society gives to public-school teaching - because it is considered "women's work."

The facts don't support blaming feminism for the current plight of some boys and men. Instead of spending our time attacking "feminists," what we should and can do instead is to recognize and address* society's systemic racism and sexism.

Yes, it is easier to complain about mean "feminists" on Twitter. And it will earn you quick praise from the many angry young men eager to believe their failures are because of "the bitches." There are tens of millions in the United States who go about their days believing society is biased against white males in favor of inherently inferior women and Blacks.  

Also, for people like Caplan et al.,  I realize:

The more you invest in a set of beliefs -- the greater the sacrifice you make in the service of that conviction -- the more resistant you will be to evidence that suggests that you are mistaken. You don't give up. You double down.

-Malcolm Gladwell, The Bomber Mafia

But while well-off white men (like Caplan) will continue to thrive, nothing will really improve for much of society - and indeed, it will get worse - until we want to lift up everyone.

* As Malcolm Gladwell makes clear in his three-part education miniseries of Revisionist History (starting with "Carlos Doesn't Remember") trying to deal with racism and inequality through college programs is simply too late. High School is too late. We have to start improving the lives of those born into poverty even before they are born.


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